Women and girls typically under the age of 21 don’t need to get routine pap smears, but a new study from the CDC finds that millions of women each year are getting pap smears between the ages of 15 to 20.
Looking at data from 2011 to 2017, the study finds that 2.6 million women between the ages of 15 and 20 in the United States received a pelvic exam in the past year, estimating that 54.4 percent of those were potentially unnecessary. Unnecessary screenings like these “may cause harms such as false-positive test results, overdiagnosis, anxiety, and unnecessary costs,” the researchers write.
Previously, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended that women start pap smears three years after they become sexually active or by the time they turn 21. But a decrease in the prevalence of cervical cancer in women under 30 has caused doctors to change guidelines to better reflect its rarity. “The incidence of cervical cancer in 15- to 19-year-olds has been reported at 1 to 2 per million girls. That’s a lot of unnecessary pelvic exams and unnecessary potential treatments that can be avoided,” a professor of ob-gyn at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine told CNN in 2009 when the guidelines were changed to tests only starting at age 21.